A-Yokai-A-Day: Noderabō

Even today it is not too uncommon to see impious Buddhist priests hanging around seedy areas of town. They go bar-hopping, drive expensive luxury cars, pick up women, smoke and curse, and do other very un-priestly things. Of course, since they live off of the donations of the faithful, this causes a lot of ill-will. During the height of the Edo period, Edo was full of vices, and priests like this were no exception. Toriyama Sekien despised this hypocrisy, which is why he created so many different priest yokai. I wonder what he would have to say about today’s priests and religious leaders…

Noderabō (野寺坊, のでらぼう)

Noderabō is a mysterious ghost, owing to the fact that it is an invention of Toriyama Sekien, and that Toriyama Sekien didn’t even write a single sentence describing it. You may recall from my post on Te-no-me that there were three things Sekien disliked above all else, and frequently used as the butts of his jokes in his yokai books: prostitutes, gamblers, and priests. This is one of those.

There is one other legend about its origin… In Saitama there is a place called Nodera. According to legend, long ago, a prankster decided to steal the large bronze bell from the town’s temple. However, he was spotted by one of the locals and had to flee, dropping the bell into a pond, where it got stuck. (Those things are big and heavy! It would be nearly impossible to drag it out of a body of water.) The pond became known as Kane-ga-ike (Bell Pond). Some time later a lazy monk-boy was given a job by the high priest of the temple, but spend the day playing with other neighborhood children instead of doing what he was bid. When it came time for him to face the high priest, he was so ashamed that he grew depressed, and threw himself into Kane-ga-ike and drowned. After that, it is said, every night the villagers could hear the sound of crying echoing off of the great bronze bell, coming from deep within Kane-ga-ike pond…

The name noderabō translates literally into “field temple priest,” but would be more accurately described as the ghost of a priest who haunts old, run down temples. The 野 part of the name, meaning field, often indicates a wild state, overgrown and uncivilized. Toriyama Sekien depicts this creature as a somewhat lonley, grotesque-looking priest dressed in tattered rags, wandering around an abandoned temple. It is thought by folklorists to be the ghost of a priest who, having falling to vices forbidden to priests, such as the love of women or money, eventually run out of cash and/or honor, and are driven out of town. They flee to abandoned, ruined temples located out in depressed rural areas, and transform into yokai. There they spend every night forlornly haunting these empty temples and ringing their bells.


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